Dr Ajaz Anwar on Bagh Mian Ahmad Din, a sad victim of vandalism and state neglect
mong all the gardens in Lahore, Bagh Mian Ahmad Din has the most diverse kinds of trees. The best part is that they are all local trees.
Located in Jahanzeb Block, Allama Iqbal Town, the Bagh is named after Mian Ahmad Din, a depot holder who purchased a big piece of land long before this “1,600-acre scheme” was planned. He planted trees in rows, and to irrigate them he installed a tubewell (the electricity bill for which is still sent to him by the Wapda, though he has left for his heavenly abode long since).
The new colony was named after the national poet. 200 acres of the land have gone missing.
Din loved to entertain his friends and regularly organised qawwali sessions. He also helped the poor. Old timers remember seeing Bagh as home to diverse species of reptiles and birds. Some of these are still nestled here, and you can hear the birds singing hymns in praise of Allah at dusk and dawn thanks to the favourable environment they’ve been provided with.
The garden was part of the Allama Iqbal Town housing scheme. In fact, a large part of it was usurped to include in the vacant plots and roads surrounding it. This was certainly not the kind of welfare planning followed 5,000 years ago when the primary and secondary lanes on grid-iron town planning were laid which came handy when roads were being constructed for automobiles.
In Iqbal Town and on other agricultural lands, ‘usurped’ schemes are designed to create the maximum numbers of plots, both big and small. The much-tomtommed Master Plan 2050 too seems to have been drafted by some quacks, as is evident from the outlook of the architects of the RUDA.
Din got the shock of his life when he was evicted from his dream project where he had hoped to spend his twilight years. Though his children and siblings including Mian Luqman later got some exempt plots, Din died a broken man pining for a reprieve. According to the law of the times, no one could be deprived of private land. But that was not to be, and Din’s pleas in the courts bore no favourable results for him.
A large part of the Bagh was originally surrounded by plots and roads of various sizes, but the surviving portion was used by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) as a nursery to cater for the newly constructed houses. All new dwellers were required to plant at least one tree in the open area. Gardeners, including one named Punnu, diligently served the residents in their spare time.
The count of the surviving trees at the Bagh stands at 83. These include 38 jamans, 21 mangoes, some mulberry, and three tahlis. This collection of indigenous trees is unique in itself. Gulshan-i-Iqbal, as laid under the strict supervision of Gen Ansari, has only one peepal and two tahlis surviving from the time when the land was used for brick kilns.
Gen Ansari was known to be biased against local trees, which is why you rarely find any birds there. He even wanted to sell the Bagh, parcelling it into small plots. A newspaper advert captioned it, “Children’s Park for Sale.”
Mercifully, at Bagh Mian Ahmad Din, a strong iron fence was erected to ward off any intruding motorbikes and stray animals. But the place is open for all during the pre-sacrifice days when expensive sheep and goats are proudly let into the garden for ‘free food’ and have a field day munching on mango and jaman leaves.
During this festive season, adventurous youths break large branches and carry them home to save the money for fodder. As the gardeners (on payroll) only sleep in the shelter provided and remain absent or are sent on some other assignment otherwise, there is no one to protect the property from marauders. No wonder it presents a picture of a wasteland.
The Bagh being deep also serves to catch excess water during rains, while the streets are cleared and the groundwater table is replenished, harvesting the blue gold. Its bordering wall, however, has become a dumping area — a sort of a mini landfill site — for all sorts of household refuse and debris. Truckloads or animal-driven carts are emptied next to this very wall.
The waste collecting vehicles have a tough time picking trash. Recently, one vehicle while reversing knocked down a portion of the Bagh’s southern wall and its iron railing. Since no government agency was willing to reconstruct the broken fence, the residents of the area volunteered with their personal money and resources to help the situation.
The solid waste collecting vehicles don’t come with rear-view mirrors, so there is every chance that the wall will be knocked down again, particularly as the drivers struggle to get off the deep ground.
The Jahanzeb Block Society is active only periodically. Mostly, it lies in a state of inertia. On top of that, the PHA hasn’t adopted the garden, despite repeated requests. The only action that was taken by the Authority was to clear a small area, dig it deep enough to pour lots of fertilisers in, and plant a congested ‘Japanese garden.’
The only purpose the experiment served was that the place became a safe haven for drug addicts one of whom was found dead on a quiet, chilly morning.
The Bagh is a great recreational place for the locals. Children play here while accompanying mothers exchange niceties with one another. Youngsters from the adjoining katchi abadi come here to play cricket. Sundays and other public holidays are full of fun for them.
A yoga club was founded here by late Jan Muhammad, a refugee from Gurdaspur whose grandfather had gone missing in the mayhem of 1947.
The Bagh is also a popular venue for Eid prayers and funeral prayers. Mercifully, the wedding feasts are banned. Still, early visitors can see bonfires and cigarette stubs lying variously about.
The place also attracts pickpockets and mobile snatchers, so beware.
The adjoining LDA school administration once showed interest in the garden, and wanted to knock down the wall that eventually (recently) fell on its own. (One would not be too intrigued if tomorrow it transpires that the school had a hand in this.) Named Botanical Garden by Google, the garden must be allowed to remain intact and unharmed.
(This dispatch is dedicated to the late Col Ejaz Nazim, a shajjar dost)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at email@example.com